Four years after Russia's annexation of Crimea, repression is mounting against the peninsula's Tatar people—whose autonomous powers, officially recognized under Ukrainian rule, have been unilaterally revoked. The group Human Rights in Ukraine is demanding that Russian authorities provide details on the death at the hands of Russian agents of Vedzhie Kashka, an 83-year-old veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, last November. On Nov. 23, 2017, a team of Russian National Guard troops with OMON and FSB secret police officers carried out raids in which five Tatar leaders were briefly detained while their homes were searched. Kashka was among those targeted, and died during the operation. An initial report said Kashka had died of coronary artery disease, but an investigation carried out months later after her family had contracted a lawyer revealed that she had suffered several broken ribs. Authorities are still not providing an explanation.
The European Parliament on June 14 overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on Russian authorities to release Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, and all the other "illegally detained Ukrainian citizens" in Russia and Russia-annexed Crimea "immediately and unconditionally." Sentsov has been on hunger strike in a Russian prison in the far-northern Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region since May 14. He is demanding that Russia release 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners. Sentsov was arrested in Crimea in 2014, after Russia seized the Ukrainian region. A Russian court in 2015 convicted him of planning to commit terrorist acts and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. He denies the accusations.
Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov was convicted by Russian-appointed judges in Simferopol Sept. 27 on spurious "separatism" charges, and sentenced to two years. An outspoken critic of Russia's occupation of peninsula, Umerov was arrested late last year, forcibly interned in a psychiatric facility, and then charged on counts of separatism, and forbidden to leave the country. The European Union condemned his sentencing as "a violation of human rights," while Human Rights Watch called it "ruthless retaliation" for his opposition to Moscow's annexrtion of Crimea. Umerov was deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body, the Majlis, which has now been officially suspended by Moscow. (UNPO)
The rights situation in Crimea "has significantly deteriorated under Russian occupation," the UN Human Rights Office finds in a Sept. 25 report (PDF), citing arbitrary arrests. disappearances, torture, infringements of the Geneva Conventions. The report especially highlights discrimination against those who have resisted taking up Russian citizenship. Individuals without Russian Federation citizenship are denied many rights, including the right to vote or run for office, the right to own agricultural land, and the right to register with a religious community. The groups most susceptible to rights violations are "those who formally rejected citizenship; civil servants who had to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship or lose their jobs; and Crimean residents who did not meet the legal criteria for citizenship and became foreigners." This prominently includes the Crimean Tatars, who have strenuously rejected Russian annexation of the peninsula. (RFE/RL, Jurist)
The first hearing in the case against Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov opened in Simferopol June 7. Russian authorities who control Crimea have charged Umerov—deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body, the Majlis, now banned by Moscow—with separatism. His supporters say he is being persecuted for speaking out against the growing persecution of the Tatars since Russia's annexation of Crimea. Umerov suffers from serious medical conditions that have prevented authorities from remanding him in custody, as they have fellow Majlis leader Akhtem Chiygoz. However Umerov has been subject to "punitive psychiatry," according to Ukraine's Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group. The independent rights monitor calls the case against Umerov a "Soviet-style" show trial.
This week's unnerving incident in which US jets intercepted two Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska leaves us wondering how to read events. Russia sent the two "nuclear-capable" bombers to within 100 miles of Kodiak Island April 17, prompting the US to scramble two F-22 stealth fighter jets from Elmendorf Air Force Base. The US and Russian craft were side-by-side for a full 12 minutes, until they crossed out of the US Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). (The Telegraph, April 18) This came as ExxonMobil was seeking a waiver from US sanctions against Russia to move ahead with its Black Sea venture with Rosneft. The decision rested with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), while Secretary of State (and ex-Exxon CEO) Rex Tillerson is officially recusing himself from any matters involving the company for two years. Still, it is counterintuitive (at least) that OFAC turned down the waiver April 21. (NYT, April 21; Fox Business, April 19)
Well, this is some very telling—and deeply disturbing—timing. Let's review what has happened in the one day since Mike Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor over his pre-election phone calls with the Russian ambassador. Trump, having heretofore been completely acquiescing in Putin's illegal annexation of Crimea, now tweets: "Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?" On the very day of Flynn's resignation, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said: "President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to deescalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea." (Russia's Foreign Ministry quickly responded, no dice: "Crimea is part of the Russian Federation.") Also that fateful day, the Pentagon said that multiple Russian military aircraft buzzed a US Navy destroyer in the flashpoint Black Sea, in "unsafe and unprofessional" maneuvers. This is said to have happened last week, but it is notable that it is only reported now. Russia of course denies it. (RFE/RL)
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was in the news last week, as she traveled to Syria to meet with genocidal dictator Bashar Assad, part of an entourage that included unsavory figures from the fascistic Syrian Social Nationalist Party. The right-wing Liberty Conservative defends the trip, writing: "Why Tulsi Gabbard’s Visit To Syria Was The Right Thing To Do." The Observer, owned by Trump's top advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, also cheers on the Gabbard-Assad meet, under a headline that could be lifted from just about any lefty anti-war website: "War Hawks Jump on Progressives to Push for Intervention in Syria." Likewise providing gushy coverage of Tulsi's lovefest with the accused war criminal are Russian state propaganda organ RT, which hails her for sparking "outrage" in the DC "establishment," and the borderline fake news sites popular on the "left," MintPress and Global Research.